Bill Torrey

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Bill Torrey
Born (1934-06-23) June 23, 1934 (age 80)
Montreal, Quebec
Occupation hockey executive
Known for former general manager of the New York Islanders (1972–92)
Awards Hockey Hall of Fame (1995)

William Arthur Torrey (born June 23, 1934) is a former General Manager and executive in the National Hockey League, most famous for building up the expansion New York Islanders into a dynasty that won four consecutive Stanley Cups. He is often known as "Bow-Tie" Bill, after the signature bow tie he always wore.

Oakland Seals[edit]

Bill Torrey began his hockey career in the AHL in the mid-1960s, with the Pittsburgh Hornets, but his talent soon landed him a job as Vice-President of the Oakland Seals, a recently created expansion team in the NHL. Torrey quickly forged a reputation as a shrewd executive, and his deals propelled the Seals from laughingstock to playoff contenders in his 2 plus seasons in Oakland. He quickly soured on the experience, however, due to constant interference provided by owner Charlie Finley. Finley had a reputation of flamboyance, insisting his teams wear white skates and trying to convince the NHL to start using orange pucks. More importantly, Finley and Torrey clashed on issues ranging from personnel moves to marketing, and Torrey left the organization in 1971.

New York Islanders[edit]

In 1972, the expansion New York Islanders hired Torrey as their General Manager. The organization's first employee, Torrey was given the formidable job of building the organization from scratch, in the shadows of the much more established New York Rangers. He added the title of vice president in 1973.

Rather than trade for veteran players in hopes of winning right away, Torrey was committed to building through the draft. He felt that pursuing a "win now" strategy didn't make sense in the long run.

In the Islanders' first two seasons, the team finished last in the league. However, those dreadful records netted them high picks in the draft. With those picks, Torrey quickly assembled a roster that rose from a doormat to an NHL power. It culminated in 1980, when the Islanders won the Stanley Cup in only their eighth season of existence. Under Torrey, the Islanders won 6 Patrick Division titles, made five consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup finals, and won four Cups in a row 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983. His clubs had 14 consecutive winning seasons, from 1975–1988.

Along the way, he picked future Hall of Fame goalie Billy Smith in the team's original expansion draft, drafted five Hall of Fame players—Denis Potvin, Clark Gillies, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, and Pat LaFontaine—in the entry draft. He also hired as head coach Al Arbour, another Hall of Famer and winner of four Cups as a player.

After helping minority owner John Pickett, Jr. buy the franchise in 1979, Torrey was promoted to team president. In 1989, he added the title of chairman of the board.

Key transactions[edit]

Right after Torrey drafted Denis Potvin first overall in the 1973 entry draft, Montreal Canadiens General Manager Sam Pollock approached Torrey, hoping to trade for Potvin. Pollock's strategy was to offer a "quick-fix" package of mature players to exchange for the top draft pick, and it was tempting as the Islanders would immediately benefit from the trade. Torrey ultimately turned down the offer. Within several years Potvin blossomed into one of the NHL's elite defencemen and eventually became captain of the team.

In the 1977 NHL Amateur Draft, Torrey had the 15th pick and had to make a tough decision between Mike Bossy and another forward. Bossy was known as a scorer who couldn't check, while the other forward, Dwight Foster, could check but wasn't very good offensively. Coach Al Arbour persuaded Torrey to pick Bossy, figuring it was easier to teach a scorer how to check. Bossy immediately emerged as one of the league's elite snipers in his first season, in which he set a then-NHL record with 53 goals as a rookie. Bossy achieved nine consecutive 50-goal seasons, as well as also having strong defensive skills[citation needed] not commonly seen in other prominent forwards.

In 1980, after the Islanders had underachieved in the playoffs for the past few years despite success in the regular season, Torrey made the difficult decision to trade longtime and popular veterans Billy Harris and Dave Lewis to the Los Angeles Kings in return for Butch Goring. The trade is acknowledged as bringing in the "final piece of the puzzle": Goring was pivotal to the team's first Stanley Cup championship win and went on to win the Conn Smythe Trophy for the Islanders' second championship in 1981.

After star Pat LaFontaine demanded a trade and held out for the start of the 1991–92 season, Torrey engineered a rebuilding project. He dealt LaFontaine, Randy Wood, and Randy Hillier (along with future considerations) to the Buffalo Sabres in return for Pierre Turgeon, Benoît Hogue, Uwe Krupp and Dave McLlwain. He also sent captain Brent Sutter and Brad Lauer to the Chicago Blackhawks for Steve Thomas and Adam Creighton. The trades paid dividends in 1992–93 season where the Islanders' made a surprise playoff run to the Wales Conference Finals. They defeated the higher seeded Washington Capitals and the defending champions Pittsburgh Penguins before falling to the Montreal Canadiens, who went on to win the Cup. Turgeon himself hit career highs in goals and points and won the Lady Byng Trophy.

However, Torrey was not around to see this rebuilding bear fruit. Pickett had turned over day-to-day control to a management committee of four minority owners, and they weren't nearly as patient as Boe and Pickett had been before. After the Islanders missed the playoffs in 1992, Torrey was forced to resign.

Florida Panthers[edit]

Not long after being forced out on Long Island, Torrey was named president of the Florida Panthers, a new expansion team, in 1993. Torrey built his new team similarly to the Islanders, and within three years, the Panthers were in the Stanley Cup finals. He retired in 2001.

Honors[edit]

Torrey was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1995. He is honored with a banner in Nassau Coliseum along with Al Arbour and six of the players he drafted. While the players have their jersey numbers retired and Arbour has a similar banner with the number 1500, the number of games in which he coached the Islanders (until 2007, when he returned to coach one game, the number was 739, the number of wins he coached the Islanders to), Torrey's banner has the words "The Architect" and the image of a bowtie.

  • Stanley Cup Champion - all with New York Islanders (1980, 1981, 1982, 1983 as President/General Manager)

In 2001, he was inducted into the Nassau County Sports Hall of Fame.

On October 23, 2010, the Florida Panthers honored Torrey by retiring the number 93, and raising a banner in his honor to the rafters. The 93 represents the year (1993) when the Panthers franchise was incorporated into the NHL.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Frank J. Selke, Jr.
General Manager of the Oakland Seals
1970
Succeeded by
Fred Glover
Preceded by
Position created
General Manager of the New York Islanders
197292
Succeeded by
Don Maloney
Preceded by
Bryan Murray
General Manager of the Florida Panthers
2000–01
Succeeded by
Chuck Fletcher